Friday, August 23, 2013

The False Choice of School Choice; Philadelphia Public Schools Crushed By Debt And Charters

I drove through Philadelphia twice today on my way to pick up my girls from a visit with my aunt in Maryland. (Why yes, that IS a lot of driving for one day...)

And as I drove through Philly the first time, I listened to WHYY's Marty Moss-Coane interview Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite. As I tuned in, I was thrilled to hear public school advocate extraordinaire Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education. If you want to REALLY understand what's happening in Philadelphia's public schools, read the 10 Question interview Helen gave to NBC10 Philadelphia.

As I approached Philly and listened to the entire interview, I was struck by the number of K12 Inc. billboards (the national cyber charter behemoth), lining 95 South.  I took note of no less than 4, so who knows how many there actually were.  The irony of this did not escape me, especially as I listened to this portion of the broadcast. (go to 38:50)

Marty Moss-Coane:  Let me just read back a quote, this is having to do with charters, and we know that charters have a mixed record here.  You said, "Unmanaged, self-directed charter school growth could force the district into a perpetual deficit." 
William Hite: Oh, it's no question.  It's no question about it.  And right now, our budget, actually, if in fact you look at what is mandated; so first of all, debt service is a mandated expense, it has to be paid first.  Second, charter school expenses actually are paid by the state, and if you put those two together, of our $2.3 billion budget, that is $1.1 billion. 
And so, those are the things that are paid first. So if in fact we continue to go down a path where many of our students and families are selecting into schools, and we just willy nilly add seats and are not able to manage that, then we will lose the ability to really have quality educational options in the schools remaining in the district.
I chewed on that quote for the remaining 8 or so hours of my drive. On my Northbound journey there were still more K12 Inc. billboards.  Philadelphia's highways seem to be littered with them. Lucky for you (but not me) I was able to snag a really bad picture of one while sitting in Philly traffic. 
Good to know where all those tax dollars are going!
You always have a choice... 

I then chewed on that slogan for the last 3 hours of my journey.

I suppose we're just supposed to ignore the fact that when parents choose K12 Inc., more often than not, they're making a really, really, REALLY BAD CHOICE! And I wonder if any of those parents stop to think that when they make that bad choice they take options away from the kids left behind in the public schools. 

But hey, it's their choice, right!  You ALWAYS have a choice, and it's FREE!!!  It just happens to be VERY costly for the kids left behind.

The true cost of cyber and brick and mortar charters to the children of Philadelphia is staggering. Here's a peek at the stats, facts and figures accumulated by the Keystone State Education Coalition Check out the full list if you have time.

18 Philadelphia charter schools are reportedly under federal investigation.  Several charters have involvement of legislators, family members and staffers. Representative Matzie introduced HB 1740 earlier this session which is modeled after House Rules that prohibit members and immediate family members from association with gambling interests. 
$1000  What it reportedly costs a home schooled student’s parents for online curriculum.

$3000  PA charter schools average cost per student of $13,411 was about $3000 more than the national average of $10,000.

$3500  PA cybercharter average cost per student of $10,145 was $3500 more than the national average of $6500.
$9000  What a representative school district is required to pay in tuition to a cyber charter for each regular education student.

19,298 According to minutes from the December 18, 2012 Agora Cyber Charter School board meeting, our Pennsylvania tax dollars paid for 19,298 local TV commercials.  And that's just for TV ads - these's no mention of radio, print or ubiquitous internet ads in that total. (emphasis mine)
Don't miss that last one.  In addition to the numerous billboards lining North and South bound 95, Agora Cyber Charter School,  run by our friends at K12 Inc., used untold public dollars to pay for 19,298 TV commercials!!

In fact, I saw this commercial multiple times on a plane to Los Angeles a couple weeks ago. (It's been a busy summer, and now you know why I haven't been blogging much...)

When was the last time you saw a billboard or TV commercial for an ACTUAL public school?  

Yeah, me neither. 

And don't miss the March 2013 Pennsylvania Charter and Cyber Charter report from Democratic House Education Committee Chairman Representative James R. Roebuck.  It's chock full of 30 plus pages of jaw dropping PA charter allegations and investigations, but this chart really says it all.

Now, I am the last one to wave around test scores and NCLB AYP data, but this is mind blowing. Only 17% of cyber charters in PA made AYP compared to 75% of public schools.

So let's bring it back to the interview with Superintendent Hite.  If unchecked charter growth is allowed to continue, the public schools will not have the necessary resources to operate.   As it stands now, employees are being asked to give back 10% of their salaries, high schools with 2,000+ students are opening with only 1 guidance counselor, and the list of atrocities goes on and on... 

And for what?

So families can CHOOSE a cyber charter they saw incessantly advertised on TV and the side of the highway that drastically underperforms the public schools.

School choice is the ultimate false choice. 

In Pennsylvania, both cyber and brick and mortar charters underperform public schools. Yet choice is sold and packaged to gullible consumers eager for something "better". But in fact, the so-called choice being peddled is not only inferior, it is destroying the only system the majority of students rely on. This ultimately leaves the vast majority of students without viable educational options, and a lot of education entrepreneurs with way too many of our taxpayer dollars in their pockets.

Which leads me back to the Keystone State Education Coalition: 
$3 million The 21st Century Cyber Charter School reportedly has a $3 million accumulated balance of excess funds over actual costs that it would like to return to school districts and their taxpayers but there is apparently no provision in the existing charter school law that would enable them to refund the money.

$5 million taxpayer dollars: last year’s bonus to K-12 Inc.’s CEO Ron Packard.  K-12’s Agora cyber charter has never made AYP.  Prior to his appointment as PA Budget Secretary, Charles Zogby was a K-12 executive.

$10 million taxpayer dollars: The amount that Nick Trombetta, former CEO of PA Cyber Charter (the state’s largest cyber charter), reportedly took out of the school’s fund balance to finance construction of a performing arts center.  Mr. Trombetta and his related companies are recently under investigation by the IRS and FBI.
$28.9 million; what Mr Gureghian reportedly spent in 2011 for 2 beachfront lots in Palm Beach Florida. (we don’t know if these are in fact taxpayer dollars since a right-to-know request pending for several years now looks like it is headed to the state Supreme Court). The charter school amendment passed by the House in June included a clause that would have exempted contractors like him from PA Right-to-Know laws.
 What is it going to take to make parents wake up to the false choice of school choice?